Help, My CEO Hates Marketing!

May 28, 2019 / By Bruce McDuffee

This post was first published on the CFE Media blog, Marketing to Engineers

Maybe ‘hate’ is too strong. In a survey conducted by the Fournaise Group, they discovered that 80% of CEOs freely admit that they do not trust or are not very impressed with marketers and the work they accomplish. To add more salt to the wound, 90% of those same marketing hating CEOs do trust their CFOs and CIOs. Ouch!

It might feel like your CEO hates marketing, but it is more likely he just has no respect for the function of marketing. The painful outcome of your CEOs lack of respect for marketing is that marketing is the first place to cut budget and the last place to add resources.

When I was a global marketing director for an electronic manufacturing company working under a CMO,

I recall a very painful moment during one of our annual meetings. The CEO came in to the room for a 30-management buy inminute visit. The CMO began babbling on about the marketing numbers such as how many emails were sent over the past year and how many tweets the team had tweeted. I could see his eyes glaze over even from the back of the room. He politely endured these marketing metrics which helped to compound his lack of confidence in the marketing function. As the CMO proudly wrapped up stating that the combined number of outbound messages was approximately 1 million, he smiled, opened the door to leave and gleefully stated that her goal for the new year was 2 million. I imagine he had a good laugh with his CFO and CIO about how he doubled a meaningless marketing number with no idea what the CMO was talking about.

That CMO was soon removed from the executive management committee and I understand that Marketing is still relegated to setting up trade shows for the sales team.

Yes, I believe that CEO has no respect for marketing. Why should he respect a CMO and a team of marketers when the best thing they can tell the CEO is the number of messages they sent? If you want the respect of senior leadership, you must demonstrate and talk about how marketing is directly driving business goals.

Here are five activities you can begin executing right now to convert your CEO from a marketing hater to a marketing lover:

  1. Start tracking marketing generated (or at least influenced) revenue. Let’s face it, the reason your CEO doesn’t trust marketing is the fault of us marketers. Recall the CMO mentioned above. Your CEO wants to hear about revenue and profit. He wants to believe that each and every employee is somehow contributing to revenue or profitability.
Before you can talk about the revenue Marketing is generating, you have to be able to measure how your activities convert to revenue. Metrics marketers should be measuring and tracking include:
  1. Return on marketing investment
  2. Marketing contribution to sales pipeline
  3. Marketing influenced opportunities
  4. Net contribution

You don’t even need expensive tools to get started. Just start measuring something related to revenue. The sooner you start, the sooner you will start to change your hating CEO’s perception.

  1. Stop talking about marketing metrics outside of the marketing team. Yes, marketing metrics are important to the marketing team. Marketing needs to watch metrics like open rates, click-through-rates, LinkedIn followers, etc. as a broader measure of performance. Here’s the tough love; outside of marketing, nobody cares about marketing metrics. Check out this blog post I wrote for more details about the 10 best marketing kpi revenue metrics.

Once again, it’s us marketer’s fault the CEO doesn’t respect marketing because most of us are just like that CMO I mentioned at the beginning. We think that marketing metrics matter to everyone. Sure, we feel great when our latest email blast had a 20% CTR, but it really doesn’t matter to anyone else. We love our metrics like the number of followers on LinkedIn or the tens of thousands of ‘likes’ we have on FaceBook or the latest email blast open rate. Stop! Stop talking about those metrics as evidence that the marketing team is relevant. 

  1. Tie marketing goals directly to business goals. Marketing goals are critically important. Business goals are critically important. If you want your CEO to become a lover of Marketing, he must know that your marketing goals directly support his business goals. If your annual plan states a goal of sending 1 million marketing messages, you will never gain his respect. On the other hand, if one of your marketing goals is to increase sales opportunities by 25%, you have his attention and are beginning to gain his respect.

Marketing goals should be related to revenue, return on marketing investment, contribution to sales pipeline, marketing influenced opportunities and net contribution. I hope this list sounds familiar since it’s the same list as I outlined in number 1 above. It’s ok to have more granular goals at the marketing team level, but make sure the CEO knows that the marketing goals do directly support the business goals.

  1. Learn how to read and discuss a financial statement. Typically, the CEO worries about the financial metrics, especially if he is running a public company. He knows the numbers inside out and upside down. He’s watching profit/loss, gross margin, cost of goods sold, net profit, tax liability et al and that is just a sample of information on the income statement. He watches the balance sheet and the cash flow statement as well.

Every marketer should be able to read, understand and interpret a financial statement. By understanding the financials, you immediately elevate yourself above the typical marketer. You will be able to understand the connection between your marketing strategy and the effect on the financial health of the company.

When the day comes around and you’re having a conversation with the CEO about the company, imagine how impressed he will be when you can confidently state the the marketing activity, your marketing activity, directly contributed to 20% of the past quarter revenue.

Take an online or offline course and learn how to read a financial statement so that the next time the CEO sits down with you at the lunch table, you, the marketing professional, can bring up the latest income statement.

  1. Talk the c-suite language. Each of these steps can be boiled down to a simple rule of thumb. To gain the respect of your CEO or anyone on the leadership team, you have to speak their language. I call it the C-suite language. The C-suite language is about revenue and profit. Talk about the revenue generating metrics listed above. Talk about these marketing revenue metrics a lot.
In this situation, where you have a marketing hating CEO, the CEO is your target audience. Like any target audience, you must understand his pain and his problems. Show him how marketing can help. He is constantly asking himself WIIFM (what’s in it for me). When you can answer that question for him with information about how marketing contributes to revenue, you change his perception of marketing from that of a cost center on his expense ledger ripe for the first budget cuts to a source of revenue on the plus side of the ledger which he is loath to cut. Before you know it, your CEO will stop hating and start loving marketing.
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